Monday, 6 June 2011

A summer Sunday in south Kilkenny

Summer sunshine in the Square in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Three of us spent Sunday driving around south Co Kilkenny – and most of it in glorious sunshine too.

We arrived in Kilkenny in time to have a short stroll through the city, looking at the castle, the Kilkenny Design Workshops, the Parade, the Tholsel and the late mediaeval merchant houses in High Street, including the Butterslip and Rothe House, before continuing on to Saint Canice’s Cathedral, for the Cathedral Eucharist, celebrated by the Revd Elaine Murray.

Later, we had a second stroll through the city, looking at Saint Mary’s in its sad and neglected state, and visiting Shee’s Almshouse, the late 16th century almshouse on Rose Inn Street now used as a tourist office.

Visiting Ballybur Castle, home of the Comerfords until the mid-17th century

After some browsing in the Kilkenny Book Centre – a shop I could spend hours in, if not days – we then drove south, stopping first at Ballybur Castle, the ancestral home of the Comerford family. There we received a warm welcome from Frank Gray, who has lovingly restored the 16th century tower house over the past three or four decades.

From Ballybur, we drove on south to Callan, where the local historian Joe Kennedy was waiting to greet us at Saint Mary’s Church. I wanted to photograph a Comerford family monument and a Comerford family tomb, both dating back to the early 17th century.

The church is a detached, seven-bay, double-height rubble stone mediaeval parish church, built around 1460, but possibly incorporating the fabric of an earlier church, dating back to 1250. It includes a three-bay, double-height nave with a four-bay double-height chancel to the east with a single-bay, double-height lower vestry to the south, and a single-bay three-stage tower, dating from 1250, to the west, built on a square plan.

There is a local story, retold for us by Joe Kennedy, that three “maiden” ladies of the Comerford family provided substantial funds for the 15th century rebuilding of Saint Mary’s. But because they could not agree on the style of architecture to use, they were each given their own way and allowed to design a section each. This, he said, explains why the windows at one side are different from the windows at the other side, why the pillars are shaped differently between the south aisle and the nave and the north aisle and the nave, and why the arches are different also.

Joe recalled how these three legendary Comerford sisters were known as the “Three Shaughrauns.”

However, the bulk of the funds for rebuilding Saint Mary’s came from Sir James Butler, who founded the Augustinian Abbey in Callan in 1471. The church was completed by 1530, with three-bay double-height side aisles added to both the north and to the south.

The chancel was used as the Church of Ireland parish church until it closed in the early 1970s. The former parish church is disused, although inside it is covered with scaffolding and under restoration that appears to be proceeding slowly. It is a reminder of the once-prosperous Church of Ireland community in the locality, but hopefully may soon find a new use for the whole community.

Gerald Comerford’s altar tomb in the ruined north aisle of Saint Mary’s Church, Callan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The nave and side aisles of Saint Mary’s are now in ruins. At the east end of the north aisles, I photographed the tomb of Gerald Comerford, dated 1604, an ornate altar tomb with sculptured emblems of the passion on its front panel and the Comerford coat-of-arms on one of the side panels.

Thomas Comerford’s monument in the ruined south aisle of Saint Mary’s Church, Callan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

At the east gable wall in the south aisle, I photographed the Renaissance monument of Thomas Comerford, dated 1629. This monument, with a Latin eulogy in raised Roman capital letters, displays the coat-of-arms of the Comberford family of Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire.

The North Aisle door with its “Whispering Stone” in Saint Mary’s Church, Callan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

On our way out of the ruins of Saint Mary’s, Joe pointed out the doorway into the north aisle with a carving above it of a lady’s head adorned with the horned headdress fashionable in the 15th century. Was she one of the “Three Shaughrauns” from the Comerford family, he asked jokingly.

The door is low arched and around its curved is a hollow, pipe-like stone known as the “Whispering Stone.” When you whisper softly into it, a person standing with her ear at the side hears clearly what you say. But is the Shaughraun above listening it on those sweet whispers?

There is a local saying:

Kells was,
Kilkenny is,
and Callan will be
the greatest city of the three.


Having seen Kilkenny and Callan, we drove on to Kells, but took a scenic route there through Dunamaggan, Danganamore – one a Comerford estate – and Kilree, where we stopped in search of another Comerford grave and to look at the round tower, the church ruins and the high cross.

Richard Comerford’s altar tomb (1622) in the ruined church in Kilree, south of Kells, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The old monastic site is in the middle of a cow field, with a warning on the gate that there is a bull in the field. Undeterred, we crossed two stiles and visited the site.

Kilree High Cross and Round Tower probably date from the ninth century. The images on the high cross include a hunting scene, the Adoration of the Magi and Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Tradition says the high cross was erected to commemorate Neill Callan, High King of Ireland, who was drowned while trying to save the life of a man who had fallen into the King’s River at Kells.

The round tower is a capless, battlemented tower that is 20 metres high. The doorway is relatively low to the present cemetery ground level. The squared plinth-like foundation is unusual: the only other tower with a similar is to be found the south at Aghaviller. The tower doorway faces the ruin of an early church with pronounced antae, though nothing appears to be known of the monastery here.

The church and lands belonged to the dean and chapter of the Ossory before they were transferred to the Priory of Kells in the 13th century. Inside the church is the altar tomb of Richard Comerford, and his wife Joanna St Leger, who both died in 1622. Richard Comerford was the second son of Richard Comerford of Ballybur, and his tomb against the north wall of Kilree Church, like Gerald Comerford’s altar tomb in Callan, is decorated with the symbols of Christ’s Passion. In all, there 20 symbols of the Passion on the Kilree tomb, which the Kilkenny historian Margaret Phelan believed was carved by Walter Kerin or his son Patrick.

The cemetery surrounding the church is heavily wooded, giving the place a hushed and surrealistic but peaceful feeling.

The monastic ruins by the King’s River in Kells, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From Kilree, we drove north to Kells, which claims it is the mediaeval capital of Kilkenny. This is a small village on the banks of the King’s River, with the extensive ruins of the fortified 12th century Augustinian priory, mills, round tower and high cross, nestled in the fertile farmlands of south Co Kilkenny.

The priory was founded in 1193, and although it was sacked and burned in 1252 and again in 1327, the priory continued to prosper. After the priory was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII in 1540, the once affluent town of Kells began a slow decline.

From Kells, we drove back through Kilree and Danganmore, and then through Knocktopher, Jerpoint and Thomastown, and south along the banks of the River Nore to Inistioge, where the village was alive in glorious bank holiday sunshine, celebrating the Inistioge Sumer Festival. People were enjoying the arrival of summer, there was music in the Square, on the streets and by the river banks.

Because of its rich archaeological heritage, Inistioge is a National Monument. The village stands at the lowest river crossing on the River Nore, and so it may have its origins in a Viking settlement. History records that the people of Ossory (Osraige) defeated King Olaf Cuaran of Dublin at Inistioge in 964.

The area was granted in 1169 to Thomas FitzAnthony Walsh who established an Augustinian Priory in Inistioge in 1206. The motte of Thomas FitzAnthony’s first fortification is located behind the houses halfway up the hill from the Square and survives to a height of 10 metres and 12 metres wide at the top.

The priors developed the settlement, but Inistioge declined after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, and in 1566 the priory lands were granted to Sir Edmond Butler.

Inistioge was incorporated as a town with a charter from King James I in 1608, with weekly markets on a Friday and an annual fair on 13 December. The combination of a steep hill and the earlier mediaeval walled settlement resulted in a dense concentration of buildings.

Inistioge prospered in the 18th and 19th centuries and its development of the town was intimately linked with the prosperity of the Woodstock Estate. Woodstock was built by Francis Bindon in the late 1740s for the Fownes family. Although the house is remote from the village, the main approach to Woodstock, the River Gate, Lower Avenue and lodge and the almshouses on the Square are all testimony to the importance of the estate in the development of the village.

This density and the elegance of the developments give Inistioge an urban quality that unusual in a small town of this size that has been compared with pre-renaissance Italy.

The Almshouse in the Square was built in 1788. The building was of particular significance in Inistioge. It was as an almshouse for local widows by Sarah (Fownes) Tighe (1743-1820), who had inherited nearby Woodstock House. This is a terraced seven-bay two-storey widows’ almshouse, with a three-bay two-storey pedimented central bay, incorporating classically-derived elements, including block-and-start door-cases and a pediment, lending a formal quality to the street scene.

The almshouse closed in 1973, was renovated and subdivided, to form two separate four-bay two-storey and three-bay two-storey houses.

The ten-arch bridge at Insitioge, spanning the River Nore, is an imposing landmark in the village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Below the village, the bridge at Inistioge is a ten-arch, rubble stone, classical-style road bridge over the River Nore, built in 1763, on site of an earlier bridge. The bridge forms an imposing landmark in the townscape, with its combination of unrefined and dressed stone producing an appealing textured visual effect.

Five us spent about half an hour sipping wine at the Woodtstock Arms, before crossing the street to Saint Mary’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, for the institution of the new rector, the Revd Martin Hilliard.

Saint Mary’s Church, Inistioge, Co Kilkenny ... incorporates parts of the mediaeval Augustinian friary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Saint Mary’s shares the same site as the Roman Catholic parish church, which was built in 1836. The fact that the two parish churches stand side-by-side in the heart of the village is said to indicate a long tradition of religious tolerance in Inistioge down through the ages.

Although the present Saint Mary’s was built in 1824, the church incorporates parts of older parish churches and fabric from the mediaeval Augustinian abbey. To the immediate west of the church is a single-bay, four-stage mediaeval tower house known as White Castle. This was built ca 1525 on a square plan and has been adapted as the entrance tower of the church.

William Tighe (1794-1878) – who with his wife, Lady Louisa Lennox (1803-1900), developed the Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum in 19th century – donated the belfry and clock. The Black Castle in the churchyard behind, was also part of the Priory, and is now the Tighe family mausoleum.

On a slightly elevated site in the churchyard is the mausoleum of the local poet, Mary Tighe (1782-1810) of Woodstock House, built in 1810. This is a free-standing, square single-bay, single-storey, granite ashlar pedimented Greek Revival mausoleum.

By the time we left the reception in the community centre across the street from Saint Mary’s, the music in the square had become much quieter. There was a crescent moon above, but there was still a feeling of summer in the air. As we drove back through Thomastown, Dungarvan and Thomastown, there was a beautiful and lingering sunset in the west.

The King James Version has left a lasting Biblical and literary legacy

The title page of the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the Church, parishes, dioceses, bookshops, schools, colleges and other organisations are marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 with public readings, scholarly conferences, historical exhibitions, new books, commemorative services and a BBC television series.

This was not the first translation of the Bible into English, nor has it remained the world’s best-selling or most familiar Bible. Yet, it has deeply influenced the way we speak and has left a lasting literary legacy.

King James I and the Authorised Version of the Bible on a stamp released in 1999

The literary development and maturing of the English language by the beginning of the 17th century, the discovery of new Biblical manuscripts and Biblical Hebrew and Greek, and the combined effect of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the development of printing, all at a time when Britain was entering a period of political and social stability and coherence, brought into being a well-loved version of the Bible that remains an enduring standard in many ways to this day. Although several revisions were made to update and correct errors in its translation and its printing, it was deliberately memorable in its prose and poetry.

But how did we get this version of the Bible? And what is its lasting and enduring legacy?

Earlier translations

Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation and the translation of the Bible depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the early part of the reign of Henry VIII, William Tyndale began translating the Bible into English, using the work of Erasmus as his foundation. In 1525-1526, he published his New Testament and began work on the Old Testament, completing the first five books of the Bible the following year. Most of his work was completed abroad, but the authorities caught up to Tyndale in 1536 and he was burned at the stake. His dying words were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

William Tyndale ... his labours and his suffering paved the way for the Authorised Version

The English Reformation saw the introduction of the English language for church services and the Bible was soon introduced in a number of English language translations, each building on its predecessor as well as other works of translation.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer ... The Great Bible, printed in Paris in 1539 under his patronage, was revised in the years that followed

The Coverdale Bible, translated by Myles Coverdale, a Cambridge monk, in 1535, drew on Luther’s German translation, the Latin Bible and Tyndale’s work. The Matthew Bible, published by John Rogers using the pseudonym Thomas Matthew, followed in 1537. The Great Bible, printed in Paris in 1539, under the patronage of Thomas Cranmer, was essentially a revision of the Matthew Bible, and was revised again and again in the following years.

By the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, more English translations had followed, including the Geneva Bible in 1557 and 1560. It was a scholarly work, using original texts, smaller fonts and the familiar verse format of today’s Bibles, with particular words highlighted to indicate they had been added to emphasise the original. Although this version exhibited many strong biases, It quickly gained popularity, despite its many strong biases, and was popularly known as the “Breeches’ Bible” for its description of the naked Adam and Eve making themselves breeches (Genesis 3: 7).

Archbishop Matthew Parker in a carving at the chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ... he supervised the publication of the Bishops’ Bible in 1568 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Bishops’ Bible, a revision of the Great Bible supervised by Archbishop Matthew Parker, was published in 1568 and revised in 1578, and remained in use throughout England until the King James Version was published in 1611.

A king’s dream

King James I acceded to the throne in 1603, and called the Hampton Court conference within a year

When King James I of Scotland ascended the throne of England in 1603, following the death of Elizabeth I, he found a country that was suspicious of its new king, who spoke with a heavy Scottish accent and who was seen as a foreigner. Yet one famous comment described him as “the wisest fool in Christendom.”

Although the Bishops’ Bible was being read in churches, it was inelegant, and the Geneva Bible, which was bolder and more accessible, was the choice of both the Puritans and the people. For royalists, and especially for James I, the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible did not sufficiently respect to the divine right of kings, with its references to kings as tyrants and its challenges to regal authority.

In January 1604, James I called a conference at Hampton Court, bringing together the bishops of the Church of England and the leading Puritan scholars of the day. He refused Puritan demands to revise the liturgy, but proposed a new translation of the Bible, without the marginal notes he regarded as seditious.

For seven years, over 50 scholars and theologians worked through the Bible line-by-line for seven years. They worked in six companies or teams, each with eight members, two working in Oxford, two in Cambridge and two in Westminster. They worked on translating the Bible from its original languages, taking advantage of more available manuscripts and increased scholarship.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes ... supervised much of the translation work from 1604 to 1611 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The work was co-ordinated by Archbishop Richard Bancroft and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of the great Anglican divines of the day. The first draft was available in 1609 and was redrafted the following year. The final agreed version was published on 2 May 1611, seven years after King James had called the Hampton Court conference.

The king’s instructions to the translators guarantees their work would reflect the king’s authority and the episcopal structures of the Church of England. They agreed to use the word bishop instead of overseer or supervisor, and accepted words that positively expressed kingship, kingdom and royal authority. In a triumph for James I, the new translation upheld the king in his rule and the bishops in the established Church of England.

A page from the King James Version shows the original typeface and layout of 1611

To appreciate the literary legacy of the KJV, it is worth comparing successive translations of Matthew 6: 34b:

● For the daye present hath ever ynough of his awne trouble (Tyndale).
● Every daye hath ynough of his owne travayll (Coverdale).
● Sufficident unto the daye is the travayle therof (Great Bible)
● The day hathe ynough with his owne grief (Geneva)
● Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (KJV).

Lasting literary legacy

No further revision was made to the King James Version for a further 270 years, apart from a few amendments introduced in the 1700s. The Revised Version was published in 1881, and since then there have been many more versions, each with its own nuances or emphasis, including the New English Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version.

The King James Version had an incalculable effect on peoples’ lives. Although its language and terminology seem archaic today, it reflects the every-day parlance of ordinary people at the beginning of the 17th century. Ever since, its language has become part and parcel of our language and our literature.

It has been well said that without the prose of the KJV, “there would be no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Negro spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.”

The KJV is the poetry that inspired Handel’s Messiah. Even secular novels are drenched in the prose and poetry of the KJV. F. Scott Fitzgerald used its language when he named his books This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned; so too with John Steinbeck and East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath or William Faulkner with Go Down Moses and Absalom Absalom.

The language of the KJV has captivated modern musicians and songwriters too. The Byrds sang from Ecclesiastes in Turn Turn Turn, proclaiming there is “A time to be born, a time to die, A time to plant, a time to reap, A time to kill, a time to heal.” Simon and Garfunkel echoed the Gospels when they sang, Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.

In moments of tragedy or turmoil or change, leaders have often turned to the King James Version. When the Revd Dr Martin Luther King dreamed, only the King James Version would suffice. He quoted from memory, and although his wording was not exact the poetry and passion came straight from the Prophet Isaiah in the KJV: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

In 1995, President Bill Clinton quoted Proverbs after the bombing in Oklahoma City: “Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness. Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.”

The language of the King James Version language has formed hundreds of everyday phrases. Consider: “How the mighty are fallen” (Samuel 1: 19), “Can a leopard change its spot?” (Jeremiah 13: 23), “The writing is on the wall” (Daniel 5: 5-6), and “The blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15: 14). Phrases like these illustrate how the King James Version has been foundational in the English-speaking world, and has had a lasting impact on the way we express and understand our faith.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.This essay was first published in the June 2011 editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough, and the Diocesan Review, Diocese of Cashel, Ossory and Ferns

Some common English phrases derived from the King James Version:

A broken heart.
A house divided against itself.
A man after his own heart.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth
The apple of his eye.
At their wits’ end.
Can … the leopard [change] his spots?
Cast the first stone.
Chariots of fire.
Eat drink and be merry.
Fell by the way side.
Fallen from grace.
Fight the good fight.
Fire and brimstone.
Flesh and blood.
Fly in the ointment.
From strength to strength.
Gave up the ghost.
Heart’s desire.
Holier than thou.
How are the mighty are fallen.
In the twinkling of an eye.
It is more blessed to give than receive.
Labour of love.
Lamb to the slaughter.
Law unto themselves.
Let there be light.
Manna from heaven.
Many are called, but few are chosen.
My cup runneth over.
Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.
Nothing new under the sun.
O ye of little faith.
Out of the mouth of babes.
Peace offering.
Pride goes before a fall.
Put words in her mouth.
Put your house in order.
Reap what you sow.
See eye to eye.
Set his teeth on edge.
Signs of the times.
Sour grape.
Tender mercies.
The blind lead the blind.
The ends of the earth.
The fat of the land.
The love of money is the root of all evil.
The powers that be.
The root of the matter.
The salt of the earth.
The skin of my teeth.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
The straight and narrow.
Two-edged sword.
Voice crying in the wilderness.
The wages of sin.
White as snow.
Woe unto me.